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Ousted Catalan leader could remain in Belgium until after Christmas

Source: El Pais - Tue 21st Nov 2017
Ousted Catalan leader could remain in Belgium until after Christmas

Ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont and four of his former regional ministers will very likely remain in Belgium until after Christmas due to the timings of the legal procedure underway in that country.

The Belgian judge who must decide whether to extradite the group to Spain, where they are wanted on charges of sedition and rebellion over their illegal independence declaration, has summoned them in court on December 4.

After hearing the defense’s arguments, the judge is expected to issue a decision within the next 10 days or so. This would coincide with the election campaign in Catalonia, where voters have been asked to go to the polls on December 21.

The snap election was called by Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy using emergency powers granted by Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. These powers were invoked for the first time in Spain’s modern democratic history after separatist deputies in the Catalan assembly made a unilateral declaration of independence on October 27.

If the Belgian court grants extradition, a period of appeals will open up, extending the extradition process up to a total of 90 days. This is the regular procedure; however, Belgian prosecutors consider this to be a special case and the deadlines could be extended into January and beyond, according to legal sources familiar with the matter.

Puigdemont’s lawyer in Belgium, Paul Bekaert – a man with past experience fighting the extradition of members of the Basque terrorist organization ETA – stated earlier this month that his strategy would focus on rebuffing any attempts at getting his client transferred to Spain.

Petition for release

Meanwhile, the man who served as Puigdemont’s deputy in the Catalan government, Oriol Junqueras, could be home for Christmas if his petition for release prospers.

Junqueras, of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), has asked Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, to lift his pre-trial custody because, among other things, he “no longer holds an executive position” in the Catalan government.

His defense lawyer, Andreu Van den Eynde, notes that Article 155 of the Constitution has resulted in the dissolution of the Catalan parliament and a call for new elections in which Junqueras wants to run. Van den Eynde underscored that his client is not a flight risk, and described the independence declaration as a strictly political act.

“Despite the strictly political value of the declaration, the fact is that there is no scenario in which the accused could repeat the illicit acts subject to prosecution,” he argues.

Former Catalan government members Jordi Turull, Josep Rull and Joaquim Forn, who were remanded in custody at the same time after appearing in the High Court, said that they respect Article 155 and express “no resistance” to the central government’s measures.

The argument suggests a change in the separatist politicians’ defense strategy, mirroring the line adopted by Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell and two other politicians who have avoided pre-trial custody altogether.

At a hearing inside the Supreme Court in early November, Forcadell said that she accepted the conditions set by Article 155 of the Constitution and openly renounced the use of unilateral channels as a legitimate way to achieve independence.

In their appeals, Rull and Turull have asked to be treated with the same criteria that allowed Forcadell to walk free after her court testimony.

Recommended Reading :

* Belgian Judge delays ruling on extradition request for Puigdemont

* Constitutional Court annuls Catalan independence declaration